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Just the Tip

9 Oct

A few weeks ago, while wondering whether the avalanche of uterus-related GOP bullshit might just be an elaborate ruse by a few anti-Mormon Evangelical Republicans to ensure Romney doesn’t win the presidency and force us all to start calling him Heavenly Father, I overheard a few bros at the adjacent table at the coffee joint regaling each other with tales of their sexual exploits. One bro, somewhat jocularly ribbing the other for his lack of manipulative mojo, asked the other, “Dude, don’t you know the ‘just the tip’ trick?” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a “just the tip” “joke” this month. It’s become a ubiquitous meme in contemporary dude media to the point that urban Comedy Central intellectuals have begun to use it as a parody of the frat scene that they share everything but a sense of irony with but somehow still disdain.

That such a “joke” can reach the level of saturation that it has ought to indicate to the public that now isn’t the time to pare down our already gruesomely uncomprehensive definition of rape.

In case you live under a magical rock that shields you from rape culture, the “just the tip trick” refers to a dude pressuring someone into intercourse by striking a bargain in which he will purportedly insert “just the tip” into whatever orifice into which he’s seeking entry. No one has ever tried out the “just the tip” strategy on me, but as a heterosexual female over the age of fifteen, I’ve been privy to various other forms of male sexual deal-making and they’ve never turned out well for me (or any of the other women I’ve discussed this topic with). The reason for this is that there is usually a fundamental difference in the motives of the parties negotiating booty treaties, or it wouldn’t occur in the first place.

When one partner doesn’t want to be penetrated and the other refuses to simply accept that reality and fuck off, rape culture shows its smug, smirking face. Any bargain entered into in such a scenario constitutes an unrequited concession on the part of the penetrated made in order to get the penetrator to leave her (or him) alone. The penetrator, on the other hand, seeks to forge these bargains in the hopes that, once penetration has occurred, he can just continue on to do whatever he wanted to do before he was refused entry in the first place, following the logic of rape culture that assures us all that once consent to penetration has been given (or, once the penetrated has been worn down enough), even if the penetrated has only consented to “just the tip,” rape becomes an ontological impossibility.

And no dude in the history of the entire world, after having struck a “just the tip” deal, has ever held to his side of the bargain. Which is why it is imperative that we not only refuse to allow men of any political stripe to define rape and to usurp our emperorship over our own bodies, but that we step up and do the defining ourselves. “Just the tip” is a form of rape. “Just for a second” is a form of rape. “You have to carry a fetus you don’t want to carry” might even be called a form of rape.

If I have to memorize the name of one more smarmy, bank-owned suit rack who can’t tell the difference between a Penis Intake/Baby Delivery Module™ and a human being, I’ll run out of time for devising satirical Guy Fieri-isms (“Up next on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the bacon pastrami dog at this joint in Annapolis will make you say, ‘Oh, snap-olis!'”). Thus, I’ll henceforth be referring to all men with opinions on my right to bodily sovereignty as Ryan Aiken.

Ryan Aiken and Ryan Aiken, likely preparing to pen new legislation on how women ought to pee

Feminist bloggers and activists have, over the course of the development of this new brand of lunacy that appears to “outpace parody,”* done a lovely (and often hilarious) job of calling to light just how comically incorrect these men’s proclamations about female anatomy and sexual experience are. But digging below the extreme-right GOP folderol unearths some basic cultural assumptions that just aren’t that funny.

Reading this piece  by Lissa Harris on her experience as a rape victim at The Nation a few weeks ago got me to thinking. I’ve been a little bewildered by my own lack of interest in Rapeapalooza, at least when I guiltily compare my own silence to the enraged repudiations of Ryan Aiken’s statements by other feminist bloggers and various political commentators. At least, that is, until I read this bit in Harris’s post:

Being myself a rapee, and also an empirically minded sort of person, I find myself wondering what would have been different about my life so far if I’d grown up under Todd Akin Law. And, being fully committed to empiricism even when it conflicts with dearly held personal beliefs, I have to confess: Not much.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t plan to sit around smoking weed and watching Through the Wormhole while a horde of Ryan Aikens legislates women back to the nineteenth century. But I, like Lissa Harris, don’t see a huge difference between the way the world works today and the way Ryan Aiken would like it to operate, at least with regard to sexual assault (abortion, of course, is another matter). (I suppose my lack of rage at reading and listening to arrogant, presumptuous quotes from smug phallocrats who are at best indifferent to the effect rape has on the individual woman or girl and on women and girls as a whole might be a symptom of rape fatigue, but I suspect I’ve been suffering from it for far longer than a few months, and that it has something to do with the paucity of posts around here. If the Kübler-Ross model is correct, then I’d say I’ve passed through the denial and anger phases and entered the acceptance phase in grieving the loss of the idea that men give a shit about women.)

There’s no real way to know whether Ryan Aiken even cares one way or the other about fetuses. He may have just decided to get on board with the GOP because he figured he’d have an easier time keeping his story straight if he went to work for the party that openly admits its absolute allegiance to big business and finance rather than the one that pretends otherwise. But it doesn’t really matter either way.  What matters is that some very large, very proximate, very important dots be connected.

In a culture saturated with misogynistic pornography, in a society in which “just the tip” describes the average male attitude toward women’s sexual autonomy, we ought to quit pretending Ryan Aiken’s ideas are all that bizarre. For Ryan Aiken, narrowly defining rape as “forcible vaginal copulation” and denying women the right to pursue their own reproductive decisions even when they have been robbed of the right to decide whether to conceive in the first place is the logical next step once male supremacists of all political leanings have just-the-tipped the public into the idea that abortion should be restricted at all and that rape is somehow less rapey when there is no visible physical trauma.

Rape culture exists with or without Ryan Aiken. Pornography, “just the tip,” and Ryan Aiken’s views on female anatomy and sexuality are all part and parcel of a rape culture in which women are seen not as fully autonomous human beings but as vessels and canvasses for male ambitions and desires. The Aikens might offer up some benzo-doped fish in a barrel, but liberal feminists are going to have to confront the fact that, underneath all of the borderline-satirical rhetoric, the Aikens’ conception of women hardly makes them outliers.

* See Ben Lerner, “Contest of Words: High school debate and the demise of public speech,” Harper’s Magazine, Oct. 2012.

Introduction to Porn Part 10: The Rutting Dogs of Capitalism

12 Feb

The porn series needs an update, does it not? I’ve struggled a bit with what part ten should be about, assuming it ought to be the capstone to an anti-porn decalogue, but I’ve realized that this series will never actually end and hence post number ten need not be some kind of revelatory culmination. So I’ll just return to adding posts to the series as topics occur to me. Today’s topic, as it seems so timely these days, will be capitalism.

The title of this post at The Activists, “Pornography Is One of the Most Powerful Weapons in the Hands of the State and the Ruling Elites,” though it is a little reminiscent of a Rolcats caption, held enough promise that I decided to read it. Read the post if you must (especially if you are a dude who fancies himself a political radical but can’t be convinced by women that you should eschew porn because it’s one of the chief obstacles to the ending of women’s oppression), but it’s really not much other than a fairly ridiculous “what about the men” argument against porn use in which men are urged to give up pornography because it is a tool designed to control men. Reading that post shortly after this one from Valerie M at We Won’t Submit reinforced something I confront quite often: surely, the post was written by a man, and the responses I’ve seen to it thus far indicate that, while denigrating or ignoring decades of toil by anti-porn feminists, everyone is going to fall all over themselves for a chance to fellate any dude who makes an anti-porn argument, no matter how incapable he might be of identifying the real (or at least most harmed) victims of the pornography industry.

Well, everyone is going to have to fellate me instead, because I have a better understanding of the relationship between pornography and capitalism than The Activists do, and because I can express that understanding without resorting to jargon-laden, propagandistic language that would make even Komsomol alumni scoff at its lack of style and subtlety.

The problem with most radical anti-capitalist literature aimed at mass audiences is the inherent assumption that the reader is too dumb to understand the complexities of political and economic power. This leads propagandists to make reference to “capitalists,” “capital,” or “capitalism” as if referring to an individual or an entity made up of a small number of people who coordinate and direct the workings of vast social, political, and economic systems. There is a reason that Marxist/communist/anti-capitalist propaganda has essentially failed as a lasting means to directing the consciousness of large numbers of people: its simplistic formulas are easily undermined by complicated realities, and by the fragmented nature of capitalism as a world system lacking in a single identifiable center of power. When “the masses” try to understand the impact capitalism has on their lives, unless they’re anti-semitic fruitcakes who adore Alex Jones and believe the world is run by shape-shifting lizard descendants of the Knights Templar who present as Jewish bankers, they don’t envision their bosses sitting in a room with the CEOs of Anheuser-Busch and Countrywide hatching a plot to keep them in servitude.

Which is why telling men that “the ruling elite” and “the state” sap their vitality and “milk” them of their “essence” via the “pornographic machine” is unlikely to convince them to stop using porn. I know most men don’t need any convincing that they ought to conceive of jizz as their essence and the supreme indicator of their vitality, but the idea that “the state” seeks to enslave the male population by encouraging them to expend all of their semen is a bit much. Even with a firm grip on the interlocking relationship between capital and governance, no one is likely to believe that a cabal of employers and government officials sit around rubbing their hands together in maniacal glee at the genius of their evil plot to addict the populace to wanking to gang bangs. And everyone knows that most people will write off the entirety of a system of ideas once they detect deception or a perceived logical flaw in a facet of that system of ideas that requires that they do anything other than what they want to do at a given moment. Self-justification is the most formidable foe any activist movement faces.

Those who oppose capitalism need to develop new strategies that take account of the proclivities of the contemporary audience and are not proven failures (as is the case with propaganda tactics derived from the mid-twentieth century) to direct people’s attention to the underlying factor that allows the capitalist world system to operate as it does: capitalist ideology. The historical moment at which the long-term endurance of capitalism was cemented was the moment at which people came to believe that every facet of human reality could be quantified and reduced to a mathematical expression. And I do mean “believe,” in the sense that those responsible for capitalism’s development trusted that, despite the fact that abstract concepts such as labor resisted being reduced to numerical tallies, all it would take to tame the world and bring everything under their mental, and hence material, control was for someone to devise the appropriate means to quantify the as yet unquantifiable. Figuring out how to “count” and assign monetary value to labor opened the door to the commodification of nearly every aspect of human existence.

Just how the idea that it was not only acceptable, but desirable, to assign a monetary value to aspects of existence previously deemed uncountable spread across time and space to bring us to the present situation is extremely interesting to me, but I’ll spare everyone my history dorkery. For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t matter how everyone came under the spell of capitalist ideology. What matters is that we understand capitalist ideology and how it operates to perpetuate capitalism on a global scale despite the absence of a directing force.

The porn industry happens to serve as an excellent illustrative example of capitalist ideology in action and the extent to which it has come to direct our thinking. Over the course of the last few decades capitalist ideology has expanded, with the aid of the marketing industry, to dominate the totality of human existence in the US and most other developed nations and to encroach upon it nearly everywhere else.  As disposable income increased over the course of the twentieth century, the marketing industry expanded and its attempts to impress capitalist ideology on the populace in the form of consumerism gained a foothold. Marketers discovered that they could literally sell people a sense of self in the form of marketing lifestyles and the idea of individualism, which made it apparent that anyone who could contrive a new means by which to commodify some theretofore private aspect of human life and create a new “product” out of thin air and people’s desire for self-actualization (whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean) stood to make a lot of money. Sex, due to the misogyny and penchant for literal and metaphorical self-flagellation that characterize the Judeo-Christian ideological heritage the US struggles under, was one of the last frontiers in the commodification of human existence. Sure, women have been bought and sold for sex throughout human history, but American (and, to a lesser extent, European) society was too ashamed of the fact that people have genitalia to deal with sex being sold openly.

Until the sexual “revolution” and the Women’s Liberation Movement and the reaction to them, that is.

To be continued…

If women were human, no one would read books about serial killers.

28 Jan

If people were capable of viewing women as human beings, their murders would not evoke prurient fascination and bolster book sales. Big “if,” I know.

After reading an excellent post at The F Word yesterday related to a serial killer whose existence I was theretofore unaware of, I made the foolish decision to google the Robert Pickton case to learn more about it. In the first page of results I came across a collection of salacious accounts of a man raping, killing, and dismembering prostituted women and feeding their body parts to the pigs on his farm (and, possibly, to other humans, as some accounts claim he mixed the dead women’s flesh with pork and served it to those who visited the farm).

The public just loves serial killers, and this case had all of the elements that make for the kind of serial killer story a misogynistic society can really get down with. First — and most telling — the victims were nearly all prostitutes, many of whom are said to have had drug problems. That element is mentioned early in every account of the case in order to assure the reader that he or she may proceed to revel in maximum prurience without any feelings of fear or guilt, because everyone knows that prostituted women with drug problems are about as worthless as anyone can get and deserved to be raped and murdered. With that concern out of the way, the authors of the stories delve into the gory details of what they choose to pretend was a bizarre aberration, treating the salivating reader to the fine points of how Pickton lured, trapped, brutalized, raped, and murdered up to 49 female human beings.

Each account that I read made mention of Pickton’s farm, the Piggy Palace, where he held parties that hundreds of people attended. They also mention Pickton’s 1997 arrest for the attempted murder of  a woman who escaped after Pickton handcuffed and stabbed her, and of the many times police visited Pickford’s farm on the suspicion that he was connected to a growing list of missing women. Despite those visits and several searches of the farm, Pickton managed to murder several more women before being caught in 2002. Each of the stories also mentioned that, though he had only been convicted of killing six women, police were aware that the number of women Pickton had murdered was likely 49. They were aware of that number because Pickton admitted to an undercover cop posing as a cell mate that he had killed 49 women and wished he could have had the chance to kill one more to make it an even 50.

It doesn’t take a philologist to understand the underlying messages glossed over in the reporting on this and other serial killer cases. Pickton felt comfortable enough to admit to a near stranger that he had killed 49 human beings, which means two things. First, he had to have disclosed his activities to several people with whom he had closer relationships prior to having been caught, and none of those people came forward. Second, he was so secure in the knowledge that other men hate women as much as he does that he didn’t expect his new “cell mate” to blink when he admitted to 43 murders he had not yet been charged with. Then there is the fact that scores of bands played and hundreds of men partied at Pickton’s farm, many of whom recalled later having witnessed violent scenes involving prostituted women and deeming the place creepy. One dude who frequented the farm reported to police that there were purses and women’s IDs all over the place, but that information resulted in a search that — either because Pickton was coincidentally slightly less secure and careless in his assumption that everyone would overlook his murdering prostituted women on that day or because the police did a half-assed job (likely both) — turned up nothing that would put a stop to Pickton’s activities. In short, the hundreds of men who had the chance to didn’t care enough about prostituted women to bother putting forth a smidgen of effort to prevent them from being raped and murdered.

There are marathons of biographies of serial killers on television nearly constantly, and books written about serial killers perennially occupy the upper reaches of bestseller lists. People revel in serial killer stories because serial killers generally tend to kill women, and the culture is so desensitized to the murder of women that it can be taken as pure entertainment, especially when those women are prostitutes. Prostitutes, in the fictional account of their existence provided by libertarian, individualistic, boot-strap ideology, became prostitutes out of some moral failing of their own, and thus deserve far less sympathy and police resources than other women (whose murders are still entertaining, though slightly scarier — to women).

Serial killers take revenge on women on behalf of misogynistic society for rejecting men and for straying outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and they scare other women back into line by doing so. Serial killers punish prostitutes for being prostitutes — despite the fact that their being prostituted in the first place is already usually punishment for their having been born poor or having been victims of abuse — and everyone but prostitutes and feminists seems to find that acceptable. Societal obsession with men who compulsively murder women and the fact that no one seems all that interested in the thoughts of men who routinely shoot other men indicate that the fascination comes not from the purportedly bizarre landscape of serial killers’ psyches, but from the fact that they are murdering women. What is interesting about serial killers and the cultural enthrallment with them is not how aberrant their psychology is, but how banal and pedestrian their hatred of women is. An obsession with serial killers might go really well with the general thoughtless consumption of macabre bullshit like Norwegian death metal and horror movies, but it does not indicate anything about the obsessor other than that he has mistakenly come to believe that men who sexualize violence by murdering women are doing anything but reflecting the logical conclusion of mainstream societal misogyny.

FBI Rescues 69 Kids from Sex Slavery, Doesn’t Mind Leaving 299,931 More in Danger

22 Nov

The FBI announced the other day the arrest of over 800 people (let’s be serious here, men) involved in the sexual exploitation of minors and the rescue of 69 children in Operation Cross Country V, an action carried out under the Innocence Lost Initiative. Excellent news, to be sure. Still, one cannot help but see the rescue of 69 children as a single lick on the world’s biggest Tootsie Pop when it is estimated that 300,000 children are currently at risk of sexual exploitation in the US, that a million children are sexually exploited annually worldwide, and that of the estimated 27 million individuals being kept in slavery around the world, 80% are women and children, with 70% of those victims trafficked into the sex industry.

In the FBI’s press release, Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch said, “There is no work more important than protecting America’s children and freeing them from the cycle of victimization.” But the FBI’s own budget seems to indicate that there are about 6000 things that are more important than that; in fiscal year 2010, the FBI spent nearly $4.6 billion on terrorism and “national security,” but only $3.1 billion on all domestic issues – including combating sex trafficking – combined.

Between 1968 and 2006, a total of 548 terrorist attacks, causing 4165 injuries and 3227 fatalities, occurred in the US. That’s over the course of almost forty years and averages out to 104 injuries and 80 fatalities annually. If the FBI were to devote equivalent resources to combating every issue that resulted in a similar number of casualties, we’d have a billion dollar task force dedicated to preventing injuries related to re-enactments of scenes from Jackass. Still, of the $306 million he requested from Congress to expand existing programs in fiscal year 2011’s budget proposal, FBI Director Robert Mueller only sought $10.8 million to expand the Innocence Lost Initiative and other programs aimed at protecting children from being raped for profit, while he asked for $25.2 million to supplement the already swollen “anti-terrorism” budget.

According to the 2010 budget, the FBI’s goal was to rescue 150 children from sexual exploitation. Without exploring how gross an idea “150 out of 300,000 is cool with us” is, that leaves 299,850 kids at risk of being raped for profit. We need to seriously rethink the definition of “national security” when hundreds of thousands of women and children are being sexually exploited within the US, and, as a culture, we need to confront the reasons these numbers continue to grow. They continue to grow because the sexualization of children and the objectification and degradation of women in our popular media and porn create demand in the market in women and “barely legal” (and younger) girls for men to pay to rape. I realize that protecting women and children from being sold into sex slavery won’t make Exxon-Mobil or L-3 Communications any money, but the FBI really ought to be spending a few more dollars on programs aimed at doing it anyway and a few less dollars on concocting rationalizations for killing/incarcerating/surveiling more brown people.

I’m really tired of hearing about Electra. And individualism.

3 Oct

Where in the samhill have I been? Sorry, y’all. I have excuses, but posting them would be both narcissistic and boring, and I’ve got other things I want to talk about.

Whilst enduring a flight from Portland to Atlanta last week, I decided to read this month’s issue of Harper’s rather than watch the same three episodes of The Office that Delta has been playing on their flights for the last three months, an issue that included an article by Susan Faludi entitled “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide.” How could I resist, right? A cover story in a tweed brigade northeastern intellectual rag intimating that young feminists — in accordance with the boring old trope derived from the progenitors of classical western misogyny — are literally (OK, fine, figuratively) killing old feminists, which explains what the (weighty pause followed by the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) Problem with the Feminist Movement is. Not only was I going to read the shit out of that, but I even got a pen out to take notes. I mean, there might be a letter to the editor in there somewhere, might there not?

I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Faludi had accepted a position as the shoeshine girl of the mainstream media establishment that she had eviscerated in Backlash, but I will admit that I did start skipping in that direction. How could I not? From the title alone, I surmised that I was about to read another tired rehashing of the same old bullshit line: there’s a fundamental and inherent flaw in the feminist movement, and that flaw is women, whose very nature requires that they scratch each others’ eyes out and steal each others’ boyfriends and precludes them from accomplishing anything other than inspiring the coining of the term “fashionista.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but there were some pretty serious problems.

Faludi starts out illustrating the misunderstandings between Second and Third Wave feminists and the ways in which those misunderstandings undermine the cohesion of “the feminist movement” (whatever that is), then extrapolates the purported generational rift that characterizes the contemporary world of feminism back to previous eras. To sum it up, the First Wave earned women the right to vote, and the consumerism of the 1920s created a generation of frivolous, ungrateful young women who rejected their mothers’ idealism in favor of a new image of womanhood that advertisers had sold them. Cigarettes and mass-produced flapper fashion came to replace the ballot as the symbols of women’s freedom, and the feminist movement had been neutered by the power elite, whether intentionally or not. Then came the Second Wave, in which young feminists expressed hatred for their mothers and the stifling brand of conformist femininity they represented. Finally, we have the current round of matricide, in which Third Wavers are waxing poetic about pube waxing while pronouncing Second Wavers and their methods and ideas irrelevant in the age of the iPod.

It’s a tidy little picture, and it works well with a sleek and misogynistic cliche like the ol’ Electra parable. The problem, as is always the case with these attempts to misrepresent feminism in order to sell magazines, is reality.

The first problem is that the argument isn’t actually all that smooth, which I suspect might be the result of the fact that Faludi herself doesn’t truly believe that feminism as a movement is fucked and that it’s fucked because women hate their mothers. Faludi’s sympathies clearly lie with the Clytemnestras in her formulation, or at least with the First Wave and Second Wave Clytemnestras, but there seems to be a giant break in her cyclical progression of ritual matricide; the daughters of the First Wavers, having been duped by Edward Bernays and his disciples into believing that projecting an image of liberation by means of Lucky Strike cigarettes was good enough, eschewed further substantial feminist agitation and shat all over their mothers’ dreams, and then we jump to the current Second vs. Third Wave throwdown, in which the younger generation’s narcissism and consumerism has destroyed the unity and potential of their mothers’ movement. The picture, a few quotes from Second Wavers about hating their mothers notwithstanding, looks more like a parallel with a two-generation gap than a steady progression of generations of matricidal women. First of all, who were the Clytemnestras to the Second Wave Electras? Stereotypical 50s housewives? I thought this was a story about inter-generational squabbling within the feminist movement, but Faludi doesn’t make a single reference to the existence of feminism between the 20s and the 60s*, which is a major problem. If I’m to give any credence to a historical argument, the person making the argument needs to know something about history. She could have easily made the argument that Second Wavers jettisoned the difference-based ideology of labor feminists in favor of smashing gender roles and achieving equal legal protection for women (or at least some of them did), but I don’t know whether she even knows those labor feminists existed.

The second problem, provided that we look only at the two generational conflicts that Faludi presents as parallels, is that young women in both instances come off as lazy inheritors of a legacy they don’t deserve or make the most of. I’ve obviously got mixed feelings on the Second/Third Wave issue, being that I’m a 33-year-old radical anti-porn feminist whose activism has, until recently, consisted of writing blog posts under a pseudonym, but I do take issue with that characterization, if only on behalf of other young feminists I know, who do an awful lot more actual (as opposed to virtual) stomping around and kicking ass in the name of women’s liberation than they’re given credit for. But anyway, it’s 2010. Does anyone pay attention to groups of people in public with signs? Isn’t making use of modern communication media a more effective means by which to raise awareness of an issue? Tactics evolve with movements, and the internet has allowed more and more women to join the discussion when they might otherwise have been excluded. Until young women quit volunteering their time to support causes that they believe in, let’s quit giving them shit for writing about women’s issues on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, huh?

We’ve got a third problem: why are we always trying to figure out what’s wrong with the feminist movement? At what point will there not be something wrong with the feminist movement? When every single person who uses the word “feminist” agrees on every single issue that affects every single woman? Sorry, but that shit ain’t coming any time soon, and when it does we’ll know that the movement has been taken over by men. What is constructive about pontificating on the failings of feminism? Does it teach us how to move forward? Faludi’s piece ends on an extremely bleak note, with a professor of Women’s Studies lugubriously recounting her program being cut as a result of the fact that young women just couldn’t be bothered to learn about anything other than Lady Gaga and exclusionary Judith Butler-esque abstractions that take the focus off of real women’s lives and allow privileged, narcissistic brats to feel superior in their ability to understand what the fuck is even being discussed. I understand her concern, I truly do, but that ain’t all there is out there, and Faludi comes dangerously close to doing what she accuses the mainstream media of having done throughout the course of the history of the women’s movement: pronouncing feminism dead. Constructive criticism is one thing, but sounding the death-knell for the feminist movement and blaming it on some threadbare trope from gynophobic folklore is quite another thing for a feminist to do.

I’ve got some constructive criticism: feminist writers ought to focus on the ideas they have that are actually interesting and insightful and express them honestly rather than forcing them into a mold that will be acceptable to a bunch of old crotchety sexists who someone has mistakenly anointed the arbiters of intellectual rigorousness. I know we all have to make a living, but let’s at least try not to sell out that hard. And I say that honestly, because Faludi touched upon something far more interesting, important, and potentially revolutionary than the ridiculous Electra complex style device: the role of marketing and advertising in the co-optation and attempted destruction of feminism. It’s no surprise that she detects increasing danger in the attempts of marketers to repackage and neuter feminism, and it’s no surprise that she sees these attempts increasing in intensity in direct response to the threat posed by the progress women have made in society (she did write Backlash and all). She’s right. But how about we place the blame for that where it belongs rather than with women themselves? I realize that such an approach makes me sound like an arrogant dick who thinks she’s the only one who “sees through the bullshit” while calling young feminists in the 1920s and the 2000s dupes of the highest order, but I’m not writing this post from Jupiter a thousand years from now. I’m a dupe, too. We’re all dupes (and I mean all of us, not just women and/or feminists), and we need to face it or we’re fucked.

But what does it even mean to be a consumerist sap? What makes us susceptible to buying into watered-down commodified versions of feminism? Why and how do the powers that be rip us off and then sell our own ideas back to our kids (or little sisters) in an adulterated form? It seems to me that the cycle is fairly consistent, at least with regard to consumerist “democratic” societies since the 1920s (things tend to work out serendipitously for the power elite, I know): a group of people gets tired of being shat upon and makes their presence known, the people who sell us things freak out and worry that these people represent a threat to their continued existence and dominance, they then calm down and try to figure out how to sell things to these people, they put all their resources into analyzing and manipulating this new target market, it starts to work because buying products is far easier than sustaining a revolutionary movement over the course of years or even decades, and then the power elite regain their grip on things until the next upheaval comes to pass. (Of course, you have to believe that under capitalism the interests of government and the capitalist class dovetail in order for this to ring true, but if you don’t believe that, you should probably not be reading this blog.)

That’s where I agree with Faludi’s analysis: consumerist co-optation of feminism has become ever more insidious and effective over the course of the past half century or so. But I don’t believe the outlook is so dismal. Maybe it’s because I’m young (we’re optimists!), maybe it’s because I’m a radical (we’re idealists!), maybe it’s because I’m a fool (most likely), but I think I may have found a nugget of the solution in Faludi’s piece.

The problem is the obsession with the concept of individualism, and if we can either temper our desire to be “individuals” or find a way to actually be individuals, we may just be alright. Group movements, posing the huge threat that they did to the status quo, provoked too much retribution in the late 60s and early 70s to survive, and people turned inward, hoping that they’d foment a gradual revolution by revolutionizing themselves. Self-actualization and self-realization took the place of group action and unity, and the power elite took note of that turn and exploited it. Republican politicians encouraged identity politics and the division of the working class and along racial** and gender lines, capitalists found ways to market “lifestyles” in order to help people create and maintain the illusion of their own new-found individuality, and selfishness and self-absorption triumphed over cooperation and empathy as the world (and especially the US) made the transition from the fairly radical liberal consensus that characterized the 30s through the 60s to the conservative consensus that has dominated our lives and political culture since at least the late 70s***. Individualism has, of course, always been a part of our political culture and our foundational sense of who we are here in the US, but the fragmented, mistrustful, and generally selfish tenor of American society in the last three decades is a direct result of the purposeful manipulation of that concept by politicians and corporations in their continued effort to get greater control over and to better be able to predict our behavior as voters (subjects) and consumers****. And just think about the billions of dollars that have been made by opportunists who have capitalized on our belief that we are all special little snowflakes and that we need to express our uniqueness to the world in order to be understood by other “individuals” that, if the cult of individualism has any internal logic, have no hope of ever doing so. We’re being divided and conquered, my friends. And duped. Marketers have convinced us all that we’re discreet units, complete individuals, totally alone and unique, which precludes us getting any of our needs met by anything other than consumerism. That was at work in the 20s, but it’s been so successful since the 80s that even the attempts at thinking of “women as a class” that characterize Second Wave and Marxist feminism have been lost to “my experience.” *****

There has probably never been a bigger threat to the foundation of our social hierarchy than the specter of women’s liberation from patriarchy and the misappropriation of our labor under capitalism. It stands to reason, then, that those with capitalistic or patriarchal leanings would put their back into sucking the qi out of any movement that posed that threat, and that they’d do it the same way they always have: by doing their best to dupe us into taking the easy way out and buying symbols of our liberation rather than sustaining the fight to actually win it. Feminism became yet another lifestyle that could be marketed to women as a means to express their individuality and power. So we got a bill of goods in place of anything substantial: Virginia Slims, shoulder pads, Playgirl, and the Pill. We got the opportunity to act like men for a price, and then the phallocrats got to blame the fact that such a facsimile of equality didn’t make us happy on feminism rather than on the fact that what we were buying was an empty package that claimed to contain personal liberation.******

That process of co-optation and chicanery has continued apace, and recognizing that and moving away from it might be the key to the future of the feminist movement, if it is decided that there needs to be one. I obviously do believe we need a feminist movement and that it’s possible for one to exist without any matricide or filicide, but you can’t work to ameliorate the conditions of women as a class if you can’t conceive of yourself as part of a class called “women” and can’t conceive of the word “feminism” without “my” preceding it.

* See Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America; Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation; and Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War, and Modern Feminism.

** See Hugh Davis Graham, Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America; John David Skrentny, The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America; and Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution.

*** See David Vogel, Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America.

**** See Lizbeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

***** This paragraph is the result of a combination several years of  school and a recent viewing of The Century of the Self, a super rad BBC documentary series.

****** See Susan Faludi, Backlash.

Too drunk to drive? Then you’re too drunk to deserve pity for having been raped, you dumb whore.

22 Oct

Thanks to reader Kelly, I’ve recently become aware of yet ANOTHER rape case in which the judge spends more time blaming the victim for drinking than the perpetrators for raping.

Here’s the short version: A 15-year-old girl went to a party, she drank, she ended up too intoxicated to know what was going on. Three boys took her into a bathroom and raped her, taking advantage of the fact that she was too intoxicated to know what was going on. The boys admitted to committing the crime. At the hearing at which they copped to raping the girl, the judge, Steven G. Salant, decided that the most important issue he needed to address was the girl’s behavior. That’s right. Here’s a quote from the article:

Salant, who described the rape as “horrific,” only discussed the girl’s behavior the night of the party, not the boys’, at the hearing. The girl and two friends decided to have a party with no adult supervision and were “chugging alcohol,” he said, and some in attendance were engaging in sexual activities. The victim was drunk and “engaged in risky and provocative behavior” like sitting on people’s laps and talking about “hooking up,” he said.

“I’m telling you this not to excuse behavior, but this was a disaster waiting to happen,” Salant said. “…There was a dynamic at work here. There were things going on here. It doesn’t make the respondents any less worthy of blame but what it does mean is I have to determine whether what we have here is sexual predators or respondents who acted horribly. …They did not get that when a girl is intoxicated and presents herself in that manner you do not take advantage.” …

The victim’s father said he filed a complaint against the judge with the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities last week because of what he described as inappropriate comments he made about his daughter, such as saying that she had been “provocative and exhibited sexual behavior towards the male attendees” and that “she may have underlying issues of her own.”[sic]

The victim, who has had to move to Nevada because the rape and the harassment she suffered afterward (that’s right, motherfuckers at school harassed the victim, not that that’s a huge surprise) have basically destroyed her life, reported that she had to sleep with her mother or sister every night as she was afraid to sleep by herself, but Salant seems more worried about the suffering the poor rapists will have to undergo, being sentenced to probation and all (no, I am not kidding, they were only sentenced to probation, and two of them are BACK at the school they previously attended with the victim). Salant had only a few moments to make a statement of opinion regarding the case. He had just one opportunity to display his dazzling and distinguished judicial skill and to project a smidgen of his legal genius out into the world. Just one shot to get a zinger onto the trial record, and he chose to use it to express his distaste for the fact that these boys would be punished for raping someone who was clearly asking for it.

I mean, that’s what the quote says, isn’t it? Why make mention of the fact that she was drunk? Why bother bringing up the fact that she sat on someone’s lap? Why would it matter if she’d spent the whole god-damned night talking about “hooking up”? Why is a drunk girl a “disaster waiting to happen” unless we’re discussing a slip-and-fall accident? Why is it necessary to go on record as saying you think there’s a difference between sexual predators and three dudes who plan out and commit a gang rape? What, exactly, is that difference? Does this guy really expect us to believe that dudes who are about to graduate from high school don’t know that it’s not cool to lock an incapacitated girl in a bathroom and rape her? Where are the condemnations, the admonitions, the outrage over the boys’ CALCULATED DECISION to gang rape a young woman?

Really, now, is underage drinking and flirting the pressing issue at hand here? Is the victim the one who warrants public reproval? On a scale of “come on, dude, that shit happens every day, everywhere” to “holy shit, that’s so fucked up I can’t handle it,” where does the girl getting drunk fall? Pretty sure it’s on the left end, right? And what about three dudes gang raping a vulnerable young woman? Somewhere right about the exact other end of that continuum, I’d say. But that’s because I’m a person who recognizes the fact that a young woman is a human being and deserves to live free of the threat of gang rape even if she gets drunk.

Not only do we have to tolerate a legal system that punishes just shy of 6% of rapists, but we also — on the off chance our attackers do get some kind of punishment (though it’s arguable whether probation counts) — have to suffer being called stupid, immoral sluts in open court by phallocratic, rape apologist judges? I call bullshit on that.

If I were Martin O’Malley, the distinguished governor of Maryland, I’d be pretty ashamed of myself right now for appointing Steven G. Salant to the Montgomery County Circuit Court. If you agree, feel free to head over to his page and contact him to tell him so.

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This is fucking outrageous.

14 Sep

I generally refuse to discuss the “trans question,” and I won’t be doing so here, but there’s a serious problem with this story (which I found out about via a post of Witchy’s).

Apparently, a person who is in the process of transitioning from male to female has been ordered moved from a men’s to a women’s prison in the UK, because the final stages of the process (surgery to have the penis removed) can only be carried out at the women’s prison. She’ll then, because the state has deemed her a woman, stay at the women’s prison. Now, normally I’d just sit around and ponder this for a few minutes. I’d think, “Well, the state has recognized this person as a woman, and she presents as a woman, so I suppose living in a male prison wouldn’t be safe for her. But what issues does that raise for the women in the prison she’ll be going to?” And then I’d go back to thinking about names for my new cat (who I’m calling Steve French and/or Samsquanch for the time being) without having taken a stance either way. You know, because I’m still weighing my own views on gender, sex, sexuality, and the relationship between them and have yet to decide how I think society can best cope with people who don’t fit into the gender binary while that binary is still hegemonic. I’m still working on how I’ll conceptualize and argue about the relationships between the different types of oppression the gender binary and the male supremacy that begat it create.

That’s what I’d normally do, ponder a bit and let it go. But in this case I can’t do that, because the individual in question is in prison for the attempted rape of a woman. Does anyone else see a problem here?

The prisoner has of late been kept in a private cell at the men’s prison. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the state to continue that arrangement after the operation has been completed? Or at least to keep this individual separated from the other inmates at the women’s prison? I understand that the prisoner’s rights and safety need to be taken into account, but what of the rights of the women who’ll be locked up with an attempted rapist in their midst? Oh, that’s right. Those don’t matter.

This judge has weaseled out of an awkward position by forcing already disadvantaged women to take on the burden of dealing with this prisoner that our social and legal systems have no means of coping with. Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Magistrate. I almost forgot the number one principle of democratic patriarchy: women’s right to not be raped comes last; anyone else’s right to anything they want to lay a claim to matters more than women’s right not to have their bodily sovereignty and human rights violated.

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